The reality is retail is thriving, and keen young people are driving its success, says Jacqueline Gold

The reality is retail is thriving, and keen young people are driving its success, says Jacqueline Gold

I’ve heard some funny rumours about our business over the years, but the ones that are making the rounds at the moment are among the best. Last week it was announced that shortly after West Ham move into the new Olympic Stadium, it will be renamed the Ann Summers Bedroom Olympics Stadium. This would, of course, give new meaning to the idea of the Olympic rings, which The Sun helpfully illustrated by including a pair of pink fluffy handcuffs in the famous logo. Amusing, newsworthy, but not true.

I’ve also heard that the return of Downton Abbey to our TV screens has seen sales of our maid’s outfit go through the roof – going “below stairs” has never been loaded with so much innuendo. It has been suggested that we might even extend the collection – the “Going Downton Abbey” range – and include a butler’s outfit that we’ll call Master Bates. Nice ideas but, alas, not true either.

It has been widely reported that the riots that blighted our nation in August were caused by a whole generation of disaffected young people, angry at the lack of opportunity, frustrated by their inability to afford the hi-tech goods flaunted by retailers and driven to crime by boredom and a missing moral compass.

These are half-truths and sweeping generalisations that knock consumer confidence and besmirch the reputation of the fantastic young people that work in all of our stores. When I visit my stores as well as yours, I see the same generation of young people, some of whom who have come from challenging backgrounds, working hard, taking pride in what they do and delivering outstanding customer service. They would no more condone the rioters than you or I.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), 40% of new jobs in retail last year went to people aged 16-21. This is a statistic for which collectively we should be receiving plaudits from the media. Although as Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, pointed out how ironic that our industry that was on the frontline facing the riots, is actually on the front foot when it comes to solving one of the mooted causes.

I all too regularly read about the death of our industry each time one of our leading retailers reports less than outstanding results. The truth that I witnessed the other week at Westfield Stratford was very different: I saw retail in the rudest of health. Westfield is an outstanding new retail development, which is full of great brands and new store designs, and all launched with a series of exciting opening events and a sprinkling of celebrity.

Most importantly, the place was rammed with customers and we for one opened with a record week. It was here that I heard another rumour, that there’s a 6ft high black rampant rabbit at the front of our new Westfield store that customers are queuing up to be photographed with. I mean, really, would we do a thing like that?

  • Jacqueline Gold is chief executive of Ann Summers